Of course, at the time, 1.9 billion was considered quite a lot of people.

Where were YOU thirty years ago today? And, more importantly, what were you listening to?

There is only one acceptable answer, assuming you were alive to do it: July 13, 1985 was the date of the only dual-continent concert I’m aware of: Live Aid. From Wikipedia:

Live Aid was a dual-venue concert held on 13 July 1985. The event was organised by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to raise funds for relief of the ongoing Ethiopian famine. Billed as the “global jukebox”, the event was held simultaneously at Wembley Stadium in London, England, United Kingdom (attended by 72,000 people) and John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States (attended by about 100,000 people). On the same day, concerts inspired by the initiative happened in other countries, such as Australia and Germany. It was one of the largest-scale satellite link-ups and television broadcasts of all time: an estimated global audience of 1.9 billion, across 150 nations, watched the live broadcast.

Who played? Well , just in case you can’t recall, here’s a partial list:

Wembley:

  • Boomtown Rats
  • Adam Ant
  • Spandau Ballet
  • Elvis Costello
  • Sade
  • Sting, Phil Collins, and Branford Marsalis
  • Howard Jones
  • Bryan Ferry with David Gilmour
  • U2 (in a performance that kind of established them as a HUGE live act — and this was before Joshua Tree)
  • Dire Straits
  • Queen
  • David Bowie
  • The Who
  • Elton John
  • Paul McCartney

JFK:

  • Joan Baez
  • Black Sabbath (with Ozzy!)
  • Run DMC
  • Rick Springfield
  • REO Speedwagon
  • CSN
  • Judas Priest
  • The Beach Boys
  • The Pretenders
  • Madonna
  • The Cars
  • Neil Young
  • Eric Clapton and Phil Collins
  • Duran Duran
  • Led Fucking Zeppelin (with two drummers, the better to mimic the missing Bonzo)

In this era of endless reunions, it’s probably hard to grasp how amazing that last part is; to my knowledge, Page, Plant, and Jones hadn’t shared a stage since Bonham’s death five years before. Zeppelin were just over. And then, here there they were.

Obviously, lots of amazing things happened at Wembley and and JFK — not the least of which is Phil Collins’ famous status as the only guy to play both venues, courtesy of the Concorde — but thirty years of discussion have led us to the inescapable conclusion that Queen turned in not just the best set of the day, but maybe the best set of rock and roll ever played on any stage.

Here you go.

Sadly, there actually aren’t any complete recordings of the whole affair — partly by design, actually. Queen were somewhat unique in that they captured their whole set, and later had it remastered in 5.1 for inclusion on their Queen Rock Montreal BluRay, which is well worth your time even if you’re only a casual Queen fan.

By the 70s, he was a joke. Except, occasionally, when he wasn’t.

He, of course, being Elvis.

On Twitter, author Lawrence Wright (The Looming Tower, Going Clear, etc.) calls our attention to this brief, brilliant performance of “Unchained Melody” apparently from a show at the Pershing Municipal Auditorium in Lincoln, Nebraska, on June 20, 1977.

Less than two months later, Presley was dead. Contrary to his commentary in the clip, the title of the upcoming album would be Moody Blue when it dropped in July of that year. Here at Heathen World HQ, we have a copy on vinyl.

Blue vinyl. Because 1977, obviously.

The finest son of Itta Bena

I saw him, once.

It was 27 years ago, when I was a lad of 18. In those days, he’d play with some frequency in a Palmer’s Crossing juke joint called the Hi-Hat Club, which was under ordinary circumstances not a place a skinny white kid would likely be welcome. Shootings there weren’t unheard of. Only four years later, a policeman would be hailed as a hero for killing a gunman there, which I remember only because the cop was married to a high school acquaintance. PTSD nearly did the cop in, too.

It was that kind of place, except when it wasn’t. And one of the times it wasn’t was when BB was in town.

Then as now, Mississippi doesn’t have a whole lot to be proud of, but music is something we do well, and BB has been a jewel in the Magnolia crown since the 1940s. He toured tirelessly, playing both fancy venues and dodgy clubs like the Hi-Hat (which, violent reputation or no, is also a stop on the Mississippi Blues Trail).

Anyway, so I went out there. I don’t remember my mother protesting at all, which is either selective recollection or evidence that she didn’t realize exactly where he was playing — and the latter seems really unlikely, because the Hi-Hat wasn’t exactly obscure; even going to Palmer’s Crossing at night was probably enough to worry some folks. Still, out I went, in a 1971 Chevy pickup.

As I recall, I tried to take my girlfriend, who refused to even ask her parents about going. Her relationship with them was weird, I guess, but she was clearly wrong because after I paid my cover and walked in — past the bar, where they served me a Michelob as quickly as I could ask for one, drinking age notwithstanding — I was immediately hailed by her father. In the absence of anyone else I knew, I sat with him and enjoyed the show in a room that was surprisingly mixed. We were absolutely the minority, but BB was BB, and I guess people who loved the music were welcome regardless of shade.

BB has been old forever. He was 89 when he died, which means he was “only” 62 for this particular gig, not that you could tell — the man knew how to work a crowd even though he played from a chair. He was famous for his guitar’s beautiful tone, but let me tell you no recording I’ve yet heard really captured it like I heard it that night. I was thrilled and a little shocked at how blue his stage patter was, but I suspect he tailored that to the room. At the Hi-Hat, where he’d played for decades, my guess is he probably did a lot less editing than he’d do in fancier clubs.

I’ve never sought out another set for whatever reason. I’ve had opportunities, sure, but truth be told my own blues preferences are a little louder and a little later — more Buddy Guy, say. But I’m awful glad I got to see the King, and do so in a small room in a no-shit Mississippi juke joint, illegally drinking beer with my girlfriend’s dad, late into a warm Mississippi night in 1988.

It’s Friday. You need some new music.

You should totally pick up on Zoe Keating.

Keating plays the cello, which is awesome from the getgo, but what she does is way more amazing than just that. She builds a composition in real time using only her cello and her laptop, using loops to create remarkable and amazing landscapes of sound. Her work is beautiful and haunting and absolutely worth your time. I’ve been a fan for years, and then had the fantastic good fortune to see her live on the JoCoCruise back in 2013. Here’s video of that performance, from YouTube:

I’m picking this video (and there are lots; Keating is savvy about internet fair use) for two reasons: one, Mrs Heathen and I were there watching (see here), and two, at that moment Keating was unaware of the terrible, rough road that lay ahead of her.

Soon after the end of the cruise that year, her husband Jeff was diagnosed with cancer. Her tangles with her health insurer made plenty of news, and should terrify everyone, but the real point is that in addition to dealing with her spouse’s life-threatening disease, she also had to force and shame her insurance company into covering his care. Oh, and raise a toddler. There’s that, too.

Keating’s husband had ups and downs in his treatment, but the initial diagnosis was pretty dire and included multiple metastasis sites. That’s a shitty hand to be dealt, and the endgame was probably already set before they even knew what was happening.

That end came yesterday.

It’s because of the peculiar nature of the JoCo cruise that I can tell you that yes, Keating is a terribly nice person, as was Jeff. If what you see and hear in the video above appeals to you, please consider buying some of her music today. They could use the help.

At least I’m in good company

Bono is apparently more crap at riding a bike than I am:

On the day of my 50th birthday I received an injury because I was over indulging in exercise boxing and cycling, which was itself an overcompensation for overindulging on alcohol coming up to the big birthday. I promised myself I would be more mindful of my limits, but just four years on, it happened again – a massive injury I can’t blame on anyone but myself, mainly because I blanked out on impact and have no memory of how I ended up in New York Presbyterian with my humerus bone sticking through my leather jacket. Very punk rock as injuries go.

[...]

Recovery has been more difficult than I thought… As I write this, it is not clear that I will ever play guitar again. The band have reminded me that neither they nor Western civilization are depending on this.

The whole thing is on an alphabet riff; scroll down for X for the inevitable X-ray of his repaired elbow, which looks even scarier than my repaired femur.

This is more time than anyone our age should have spent on Dr Hook, and yet it’s brilliant

Okkerville River’s Will Sheff is absolutely in love with an obscure German TV concert tape of Dr Hook & the Medicine Show (conveniently also on YouTube; he embeds bits to illustrate his points) and has written a truly remarkable analysis of it that is absolutely worth your time even if you’re only vaguely aware of who this band was. It is in particular compelling in its insight into the musical and interpersonal dynamics going on in a live performance, which I find fascinating.

When you’re done, check the comments. It turns out two members of the band show up there and weigh in, which is awesome (frontman Dennis Loccorriere, and guitarist Rik Elswit).

(Widely linked.)

Listen up, cause you can’t say nothin’ / you shut me down with the push of your button

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is with complete dismay that I point out that SABOTAGE is now twenty years old.

Never has a video been so perfect, but where is the cast now?

  • Vic Colfari made his debut as Bobby, the Rookie. After a series of failed pilots, Colfari became a household figure in Canada as the spokesman for Viva Queso, a chain of tex-mex restaurants based in Calgary.

  • Fred Kelly’s only role is his turn as Bunny, and we’re all richer for it. Kelly, an undrafted free agent, used his “Sabotage” fame to gain a tryout with the Kansas City Chiefs, where he played until 1999. Today, Kelly is semi-retired, and coaches high school football in his small Nebraska hometown.

  • Nathan Wind’s star turn as Cochese sent him into the acting stratosphere with almost unprecedented speed. A year before “Sabotage,” Wind was waiting tables in a Tulsa Applebee’s; a year after, he was the toast of the town at Cannes based on his cast-against-type appearance in Quentin Tarantino’s 1995 remake of “Duck Soup.” Wind splits his time between Los Angeles, his Wyoming ranch (tellingly named “Sabotage Acres,” we’re told), and a villa near Lake Como.

  • Sir Stewart Wallace, he of mustache, safari jacket, and briefcase, remains an enigma. Few realize that he wore his own clothes for the shoot, but knowing what we know now about his occasional intelligence work, it makes sense. Wallace gave no interviews in the scrum of press surrounding “Sabotage,” and quickly became almost impossible to pin down. There are stories of him surfacing at random fan events, conventions or festivals, in disguise so as not to disrupt them, but none have been confirmed, and virtually nothing is known of his personal life.

    His last public appearance was two years ago, in the spring, at the opening of a Zen retreat near Palmetto, Florida. He has not been seen since, and his representation claims ignorance.

    Regardless of his whereabouts, we wish Wallace the best. All of us miss him very, very much.

“In the darkness of the room / your mother calls you by your true name…”

Or, a few thoughts on how we spent Tuesday night:

  • A month or so ago, when we were at the Woodlands for Arcade Fire, we were among the oldest people present not chaperoning children. This was clearly NOT the case with Bruce.

  • Bruce Springsteen is sixty fucking four years old, and has lost ZERO steps. He remains a trim — if tiny — densely packed distillation of live performer charisma. He played for a curfew-defying 3+ hours; it’s said online that this tour has supporting acts in some venues, but the bullshit rules at the Woodlands left no room for one. He started before 8, and didn’t finish until after 11. You damn sure get your money’s worth, that’s for certain.

  • It is apparently a thing for the crowd to play a little “stump the band” game with Bruce via signage. Several times I saw him point and grab a sign, thrilling a pit member, before launching into a song almost certainly already on the playlist — but this game got truly fun a few times when the request tickled him enough to take a flyer on some deep cut. The first instance was “One Step Up,” from 1988′s Tunnel of Love; the sign noted that, apparently, he hasn’t played it with the full E Street Band since that year, so of course CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.

    The later, better example was when he pulled two young Hispanic brothers up onstage, complete with their sign to the effect of “I busted my brother out of school to sing NO SURRENDER with the Boss!” Bruce obliged, and shared the mic with them for the duration of the song. It’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen at a concert. (Confidentially to Triple-F, it’s a level of “cool older brother at a concert” mojo that my late-1990s stunts cannot begin to match; sorry, dude).

  • One reason we ponied up the stupid amount of money required for decent seats at a Springsteen show this time around was the addition of Tom Morello on guitar. Little Steven’s busy in Norway, as I mentioned back in March, and the swap really adds some much-needed modernity to Bruce’s live sound. Morello is a goddamn wizard, and is a real pleasure to watch play — and what he gives to “The Ghost of Tom Joad” cannot be overestimated. Track of the night, IMO.

  • Returning to Joad, it was both predictable and disappointing that much of the crowd sat for this barnburner of a track; it’s not one they know (the live version is a performance of the re-recorded track from High Hopes, not of the original version from 1995 album of the same name). Of course, a mob of rich baby boomers in the Woodlands probably wouldn’t take too kindly to the overtly leftist ideas in the song even if they were following the lyrics (notwithstanding the “ARM THE HOMELESS” slogan on Morello’s guitar, there were no verbal politics from the stage outside of Bruce’s lyrics). They did, at least, come to their feet for Morello’s solo.

  • I don’t think she had a sign, but Bruce DID fish a woman out of the pit for “Dancing in the Dark.” The woman, clearly middle aged, is probably only a little bit older than that chick from the iconic video is now.

  • By the way, watch that video. Bruce’s youth — it was 1984, a full thirty years ago — will just SLAY you.

  • If you think three decades is a long time, this’ll kill you: he noted that the first time they played Houston was FORTY years ago, in 1974.

  • You know “Because the Night” because of Patti Smith, probably, but it was actually co-written by Bruce. Knowing that, as you now do, you must be faced with the same question I have: Why in the FUCK did milquetoast meek Natalie Merchant think she could cover it?

  • Of course Bruce brings on Joe Ely. Of course he does. I just wish they’d sung something other than covers of songs designed for the geriatric set; it’s not like Ely’s own songbook isn’t full of more interesting options than “Lucille” and “Great Balls of Fire.”

  • More disappointing was how much time Bruce gave to “Shout” towards the end, when I was getting antsy for “Thunder Road.” Really? Obviously, Bruce is not my monkey, but what I said about the covers with Ely goes double for this nursing home track that was tired when Born to Run was released. (Obviously, though, the overwhelmingly older crowd loved it, so I guess he knows his audience.)

  • He did, thankfully, finish out the night with a spare, acoustic, solo take on “Thunder Road,” which was a fine way to go out, but I can’t help but wish for a higher-energy take.

Now: let’s hope we can go at least a year without driving back out to the Synthetic Suburbs.

Here’s something I didn’t know that’s awesome

When Bruce Springsteen toured Australia last year, he needed an extra guitar man because Little Steven couldn’t make the trip.

He tapped Tom Morello, with whom he’d apparently become friends since a performance together in LA in 2008.

Here they are, doing “The Ghost of Tom Joad” (from the Hall of Fame in 2009, not the Aussie tour).

I think it’s safe to say the collaboration works. Play it loud.

(Via this Rolling Stone interview with Morello, which is worth reading for lots of reasons.)

Update

In the “that settles it” department, looks like I’m buying tickets to see Bruce in the Woodlands in May, because Morello is with him for the whole tour owing at least partly to Van Zandt’s shooting schedule on Lilyhammer.

Pete Seeger

Sad news this morning; 94-year-old Pete Seeger, folk giant and national conscience, has passed away.

Don’t miss either his Wikipedia bio or the exhaustive Times obit linked above. Remember, this is a man who told the House Un-American Activities Committee that

I feel that in my whole life I have never done anything of any conspiratorial nature.” He also stated: “I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.

They tried to imprison him for that. That’s an American hero, right there.

Five years ago this month, Mrs Heathen and I stood in the cold and wet in Washington at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial for the Obama Inaugural Concert. Among our favorite memories of that day is seeing Pete Seeger perform live, leading us in all the verses of “This Land Is Your Land.”

We were part of a very very large, yet very very happy sea of humanity, so my only shot of Seeger is actually a long shot of a jumbotron, but I’ll take it.

Fortunately, YouTube has decent footage of his performance. Take a moment for Mr Seeger (his grandson is part of this ensemble, by the way).

Pete Seeger was married for almost 70 years to Toshi Seeger, an accomplished figure in her own right. Mrs Seeger passed away last July, at the age of 91.

One Toke.

In 1971, somehow, the Lawrence Welk show featured a hokey, square performance of “One Toke Over The Line”; Welk himself referred to it as a “modern spiritual.”

Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot.

The song is infinitely more famous for having been included in a particularly drug-soaked work of Gonzo journalism as well as the film adaptation (at 2:00 or so). There’s not another meaning for “toke.”

This must be what they meant when they talked about the “generation gap” back then. Still, you have to believe that someone at the Welk office knew just exactly what this song meant, and let the whole process happen as a goof.

“Some art is real.”

Ordinarily, I find Chuck Closterman tedious and irritating. His remembrance of Lou Reed in Grantland, however, is completely fucking spot on.

I love this bit in particular, about Metal Machine Music:

In 1975, Reed released Metal Machine Music, a four-sided 64-minute collection of itchy guitar feedback with no words or melody. In the original liner notes, Reed claimed no one he knew had ever listened to the entire thing, including himself. If you purchased it on vinyl, you eventually realized the fourth side concluded with a “locked groove.” This meant that — if you didn’t manually lift the needle off the record — it would never stop playing (thereby subjecting its listener to an endless, joyless squeal). Basically, he made an album that sounded terrible on purpose and then figured out a way to make it go on forever. It assaulted the people who supported him and exasperated the label that paid him to create it. Now that he’s dead, it’s tempting to argue that the mere existence of Metal Machine Music is cool and subversive, almost as if the only thing that matters was the idea. But it’s not just the idea. It’s not just that Reed thought it would be funny to do this.* It’s not a parody or an urban legend. Metal Machine Music is a real thing. You can hold it. You can drop it on the floor. It’s a tangible document that illustrates the militant fringe of what can be produced with the rudimentary tools of rock and roll, designed by someone who never adequately explained what his original motive was. It’s not merely cool that it exists. It’s amazing that it exists. It’s wonderful, regardless of the notes. And while thousands of lesser mainstream artists could have easily produced an album with similarly unlistenable sounds, only Reed actually did so. Only Reed made this album, sold it to 100,000 people, and moved on to something else entirely.

* Although this was probably part of it.

Lou Reed: Original Heathen

I came to Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground late by some standards, but in the pre-Internet era of the 1980s in South Mississippi, it’s sort of amazing I ever found him at all. My first exposure was via the Jane’s Addiction cover of “Rock and Roll“, which I heard at a party I probably shouldn’t have been at in a “student ghetto” house behind a USM dorm that’s not there anymore (Elam, for any EagleHeathen).

Anyway, the song started, and someone said “you know, there aren’t that many Velvet Underground covers, and there are even fewer good ones.” I didn’t get the reference until a year or so later, when I met my friend John Smith.

That’s not a pseudonym. John was born with a name that would, 20 years later, make him completely un-Google-able but for his brief moment of fame. He came to UA with much better music taste than I’d been able to assemble in Hattiesburg, so it was through John that I first really explored some of the artists who would become ubiquitous for the rest of my life: Dylan, Alex Chilton and Big Star, and most of all Lou and the Velvet Underground.

John and I hit it off pretty quickly, and the music was always a fixture in his smokey dorm room. Loaded hit the turntable, and there, suddenly, was the punch line to the joke set up so many months before behind Elam Arms. The Janes’ version was a reasonable cover, but here was the ur-text, a fully formed protopunk song recorded before I was even born. The penny drops for some of us when we first hear the Velvet Underground; if you’re at all aware of the trends of popular and alternative music since the 1970s, you have no doubt at all that what Brian Eno said is true: not that many people bought Velvet Underground records, but damn near every single one of them started a band. It’s no exaggeration to say that, without Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, modern music would be unrecognizably different.

I was sitting on the ground, outside the “security bubble” of the Marine Corps Marathon finish area on Sunday when I got the news. Lou Reed had died on Sunday, in Long Island. He was 71 years old, which is a hell of a lot longer than I suspect he thought he’d live. I am not one given to grief over celebrities, but I am not too proud to say this hit me hard, harder even than MCA last year. I blinked through tears to read the quickie Rolling Stone obit, and was amazed to see his hometown paper was caught flat-footed; it took the Times almost a full day to deploy the sort of exhaustive obituary for which they’re rightly famous. Someone said “gosh, we’re really gonna lose it when Dylan dies,” and I realized that Reed meant and means more to me than Dylan ever has. I’m having a hard time coming up with many other musicians whose artistic footprint figures as much into my own life as Reed, and it’s a short list indeed — filled mostly, no doubt, with folks who stood on Reed’s shoulders. (Tom Waits will live forever AND I WILL BROOK NO DISSENT.)

The tributes and memories flooded my Twitter feed for much of the next day. Why, of course Neil Gaiman was a fan, and of course he interviewed him years ago, as a working journalist. As it turns out, Sasha Frere-Jones used Reed’s music to propose marriage. Josh Marshall was a fan, too. By Monday, VU bandmate John Cale had weighed in:

“The news I feared the most, pales in comparison to the lump in my throat and the hollow in my stomach,” Cale wrote in a statement. “Two kids have a chance meeting and 47 years later we fight and love the same way – losing either one is incomprehensible. No replacement value, no digital or virtual fill . . . broken now, for all time. Unlike so many with similar stories – we have the best of our fury laid out on vinyl, for the world to catch a glimpse. The laughs we shared just a few weeks ago, will forever remind me of all that was good between us.”

There are only four Velvet Underground albums: 1967′s Velvet Underground & Nico, the blistering followup White Light/White Heat a year later, the self-titled Velvet Underground from 1969, and finally Loaded in 1970. None are long, and all cast long shadows (all 4 rate Rolling Stone’s list of Top 500 Rock Albums). In those four brief records there’s enough gold for a hundred lesser careers — and Lou wasn’t done when he left the Velvet Underground.

In his solo work, he never stopped experimenting — indeed, it’s not unfair to say his solo career embodies the idea that, if you never fail, you’re not trying hard enough. Most of it, aside from the radio hit that included Neil Gaiman’s daughter’s namesake, is less accessible than the VU work, but that doesn’t mean bad. Transformer is an amazing rock and roll record (and includes the aforementioned “Wild Side”). His 1973 effort Berlin is the standard by which soul-crushingly sad albums are judged. Street Hassle‘s title track is a 3-movement poem about down-and-out life in New York, and believe it or not has aged reasonably well. 1989′s New York put him back on the radio, and a year later he reunited with VU partner John Cale to memorialize Andy Warhol with Songs for Drella, which met with broad praise.

There’s little else I can say on the subject not said better elsewhere, so I’ll close this down and apologize for a disjointed entry. Follow a link or two if you’re unfamiliar. Dive deeper if you are. In closing, here’s John Cale performing an on-topic poem with music by Brian Eno:

Nile Rodgers’ Bad Day, and A Surprising Source for Great In-Depth Music Conversations

Via this MeFi thread ostensibly about Rodgers accidentally losing, and then (amazingly) recovering his treasured ’59 Strat on a train, we discover this great long and wide-ranging interview with Rodgers, which is part of the shockingly cool Red Bull Music Academy Lectures.

(In the unlikely event you’re a Heathen reader and yet still do not know who Rodgers is: he’s a goddamn giant, and has been a huge influence on popular music since the 1970s. Most famously, he’s one half of the “core” of the band Chic, but he’s also a producer of great renown — for Diana Ross, Debbie Harry, David Bowie, INXS, Duran Duran, Bryan Ferry, B-52s, and, most recently, for Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories.)

Pick up on it.

Arcade Fire, Again

Three years ago, we were blown away by Arcade Fire’s amazing HTML5 experimental “video” for The Wilderness Downtown. You may recall it involved superimposing their video plot on your own hometown, via Google Maps and Google Earth, which sounds way less impressive than it actually was (and is).

Apparently, innovative online content is a core value for Arcade Fire, because what they’re doing with Reflektor is something else again; using your smartphone as a controller, you can affect the video as it plays, but that’s a super-reductive way to describe what’s going on here. Here’s a behind the scenes bit that helps explain what’s happening here. (Now, as then, you need Chrome for this to work.)

The record drops 10/28. Mark your calendars.